It can be hard to get past the idea that people must pay for what they’ve done.

I’m not thinking about the legal system. Obviously, if someone has committed a crime, they must be held to account.

I’m thinking about situations where we find ourselves in the position of judge and jury. I’m thinking about the kinds of situations about which Paul might write, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord’” (Rom 12:19).

Suppose your younger brother insulted your father by demanding his share of the inheritance while your father was still alive. Suppose he quickly left town, and you can only imagine what he was doing with his sudden windfall.

Now suppose he comes home…and your father welcomes him with open arms! Does that sit well with you? Do you resent your father’s forgiveness? Might there be a part of you, no matter how small, that wishes your younger brother had never come home at all?

Forget about greedy brothers and doting, dishonorable fathers for a minute. What offenses do you find it hard to let go of? With whom do you resist celebrating when God has apparently blessed them?

When we have it in our power to forgive, why is it so hard?

We love to sing about “Amazing Grace.” Sometimes, though, we can’t help but brush up against a grace that’s just a little bit too amazing. That’s where the story of Jonah brings us.

Jonah would have been an inspiring story of a reluctant prophet who eventually led an entire city to repentance—if it weren’t for the last chapter! The people’s repentance is pleasing to God but not to Jonah (4:1). On the contrary, he becomes angry that the Ninevites were spared.

God then gives Jonah an object lesson about God’s concern for all creation. God provides, and then removes, a shady bush under which Jonah could sit. And Jonah, missing the point entirely, shows more concern about the bush than he ever did about the Ninevites.

The story ends without telling us Jonah’s response. Perhaps we’re meant to put ourselves in his shoes and imagine what we would do with this lesson about God’s amazing grace.

Discussion

• With whom was Jonah angry, the Ninevites, God, or both? Why?
• What lesson was Jonah supposed to draw from the bush that withers?
• How do you feel when someone who might be considered “undeserving” benefits from God’s grace? Why?
• How can we see such people from God’s point of view?
• What prejudices keep me from extending grace to everyone?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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